College Compost

We generate waste in many ways-- including leftover food and lawn and garden care. The University of Tennessee takes waste created on campus and turns it into an agricultural product.

The average American generates four pounds of garbage every day. When you have a campus the size of UT-- 40,000 students and faculty, a small city really-- you get a lot of waste. But, does it all have to be wasted?

Some of what the campus discards goes here, the UT Compost Facility, where more than 500 tons of useful compost is produced and passed on.

According to Wayne Mason, “Primary source of the material is food waste. That comes from dining facilities and the student union. It’s all back of house composting.”

Also brought here, wood chips, grass clippings, and twigs from campus landscaping and manure and bedding from animal facilities on the ag campus and veterinary college. Rather than dump this in a landfill, the material is composted for agricultural use.

“The process is start to finish,” Jay Price, UT Sustainability Manager, states. “We take waste materials, process it here on campus. It’s circled back into crops on campus. A lot of those are food crops, so the cycle continues.”

The university then benefits from its own compost. It is put in the UT Gardens and another big user-- the ag institutes organic farm, just a few miles down the road.

The farm crew spreads the compost where crops will be planted. The compost helps boost soil fertility and organic matter.

“Organic matter is what holds the soil together and keeps it healthy, and so it helps with maintaining moisture in the soil. It also just gives the plants that base they need to grow, so there’s a lot of benefits to it,” UTIA’s Annette Wszelaki explains.

UT AgResearch provides the land for compost facility and Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science is involved in developing a sustainable product.

“We’re developing a good compost recipe, so we’re getting a good balance of carbon and nitrogen for the microbes that we want to break down. We’re making sure these microbes have plenty of oxygen and plenty of water, and by managing it efficiently, we can produce a nice end product,” Forbes Walker adds.

Not everything is compostable, but a conversion of old to new is possible for what we no longer want or need.

If you have waste, might as well put it to good use.